10 times GOP candidates gave labor a giant middle finger

A Hall of Infamy for this Labor Day

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published September 7, 2015 9:58AM (EDT)

  (AP/Reuters/Joshua Lott/Jonathan Ernst/Lefteris Pitarakis/Tony Dejak)
(AP/Reuters/Joshua Lott/Jonathan Ernst/Lefteris Pitarakis/Tony Dejak)

On this Labor Day holiday, American workers who already get the least paid vacation time of any developed nation in the world and who are taking the fewest days off in four decades, must suffer through (or are treated to) the Republican presidential circus of the 2016 campaign, featuring more than a dozen presidential hopefuls who have demonstrated tone-deafness or outright disdain toward labor.

With a crowded field of 17 candidates, the GOP's 2016 presidential slate features at least two leading Republican candidates who have risen to right-wing notoriety by pushing laws stripping collective bargaining rights from most public employees and another favorite who insists that Americans should just "work longer hours." And that's just a start.

So on this Labor Day, here are 10 times Republican presidential candidates have given American workers a giant middle finger.

1. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker called raising the minimum wage "a lame idea."

"The left claims they're for American workers, and they've just got really lame ideas. Things like the minimum wage," Walker told Fox News' Sean Hannity in July.

Walker has also said that he doesn't think that the minimum wage "serves a purpose."

2. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has called for eliminating the federal minimum wage entirely.

“We need to leave it to the private sector. I think state minimum wages are fine. The federal government shouldn’t be doing this,” Bush said in March.

Ever the consummate campaigner, Bush suggested to a South Carolina audience that support for an increased minimum revealed a level of ignorance on the part of Americans, dismissing the notion as a political sound bite:

This is one of those poll-driven deals. It polls well, I’m sure – I haven’t looked at the polling, but I’m sure on the surface without any conversation, without any digging into it people say, ‘Yeah, everybody’s wages should be up.


Now, politically, I’m sure it’s a great soundbite. But from an economic point of view this is not how we need to be successful.

In typical Bush fashion, he later insisted that he only meant he opposed a federal minimum wage increase -- not a federal minimum wage itself.

According to at least one new poll, a majority of Iowa GOP caucus and New Hampshire GOP primary voters support an increase in the federal minimum wage.

3. Ditto for Carly Fiorina: A federal minimum wage increase "makes no sense."

“It makes no sense to say that the minimum wage in New York City is the same as the minimum wage in Mason City, Iowa,” the Republican candidate explained during a Q&A at last month's Iowa State Fair.

Fiorina also argued that an increase in the minimum wage would actually hurt, not help, low-income workers. “We need to be honest about the consequences of raising a minimum wage too high,” she said. “One of the consequences is that young people who are trapped in poor neighborhoods will have less opportunities to learn skills and move forward.”

4. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says he's "tired of hearing about the minimum wage." 

"I gotta tell you the truth," Christie admitted to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last year. "I’m tired of hearing about the minimum wage, I really am."

Christie denied the minimum wage was an issue for many Americans: "I don’t think there’s a mother or father sitting around a kitchen table tonight in America who are saying, ‘You know, honey, if my son or daughter could just make a higher minimum wage, my God, all our dreams would be realized.’ Is that what parents aspire to for their children?"

Christie has called President Obama a "class warrior," for his support of an increase in the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour, and slammed the effort as a distraction from the more pressing need to focus on "creating better paying jobs for everyone in our country.”

5. Ohio Gov. John Kasich has warned that a raise in the minimum wage could "create morale problems with people who are more skilled."

"It’s about balance,” Kasich explained to New Hampshire voters this week. "Any time you want to do something like that," he warned, "make sure that it makes sense between management and labor so we don’t have the unintended consequences of throwing the least skilled people out of work and we create morale problems with people who are more skilled who feel as though they’re not appreciated.”

Kasich also suggested that an increase in the minimum wage would lead to a loss of jobs, noting that Ohio-based fast-food chain Wendy's had threatened to install kiosks and do away with cashiers if the minimum wage was raised too high.

Call it "right to work," "paycheck protection" or "workplace freedom,” the GOP's 2016 field features a number of candidates who have risen to national right-wing prominence straight into a crowded competition for their party's nomination by aggressively implementing these union-busting laws.

6. Scott Walker vows to seek a federal "right to work" law.

During an April interview with Radio Iowa, the 2016 candidate most synomous with the union crushing so-called right-to-work laws vowed to bring his “courage…and capacity” to the White House to oversee a "legitimate" effort to make every state a “right-to-work.”

“I think in Washington we need that even more," Walker argued in favor of federal intervention.

“As much as I think the federal government should get out of most of what it’s in right now, I think establishing fundamental freedoms for the American people is a legitimate thing and that would be something that would provide that opportunity in the other half of America to people who don’t have those opportunities today.”

7. Ditto for Rand Paul

The Kentucky senator has actually introduced federal legislation to this effect.

8. Chris Christie wants to punch the national teachers union in the face.

In a recent interview, CNN's Jake Tapper noted Christie's fondness for advising to punch bullies in the face, asking, "At the national level, who deserves a punch in the face?”

"The national teachers union," Christie replied, citing the American Federation of Teachers' endorsement of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

And at a recent campaign stop in New Hampshire, Christie blamed teachers unions for U.S. students falling behind their global peers. “The teachers union likes to be off work four or five months a year. They like to get a full-time salary for a part-time job. They don’t want to work longer hours.”

9. Jeb! says Americans need to "work longer hours."

Although he'd later attempt to clarify the statement (for the umpteenth time), in July Bush told the New Hampshire Union Leader that in order to achieve his "aspirations for the country" of "4 percent growth as far as the eye can see," American workers would have to "work longer hours."

Never mind that the U.S. hasn't seen a sustained period of 4 percent annual growth in potential GDP in a half-century.

10.  And let's not forget Carly Fiorinia's layoffs at HP.

The 30,000 sad emojis that greet visitors of CarlyFiorina.org are a lighthearted reminder of the former Hewlett-Packard CEO's disastrous record running the Silicon Valley giant, but Fiorina, who oversaw the layoff of 30,000 workers as CEO, was seriously unfunny when she simultaneously defended corporations' right to outsource jobs, lobbying against government efforts to protect U.S. workers.

"There is no job that is America's God-given right anymore,'' Fiorina declared.

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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2016 Republican Primary American Workers Gop Gop 2016 Labor Labor Day Minimum Wage Unions